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Lebanon ripe for growth, says FAP chief

The chairman of FAP, a leading furniture and mattress manufacturer, Eid Chedrawi. (The Daily Star/Mohamad El Amin)

BEIRUT: Lebanon remains ripe for industrial development despite economic slowdown in 2012, the chairman of FAP, a leading furniture and mattress manufacturer, told The Daily Star in an interview Tuesday.

“We are doing much better than Greece, for instance, where financial troubles are having a much more devastating economic impact than political instability has had here,” said Eid Chedrawi from his factory office in Hosrayel, north Lebanon.

Nevertheless, Chedrawi admitted that Lebanon’s politically driven sluggish economic performance this year had affected his business.

He said a sharp decline in tourism had affected some areas of his business, particularly the company’s line of hotel furniture and mattresses. Many hotels avoided expensive renovations this year because of low occupancy rates, he added.

Chedrawi said that while FAP had struggled to move medium and low-end products, he believed luxury products had been spared the decline in sales. FAP’s sales, he added, had fallen by at least 10 percent since the beginning of 2012.

But for Chedrawi, the slowdown is temporary and has not stopped the company from seeking business expansion. He said FAP had placed orders for advanced industrial equipment only two weeks earlier as it strove to boost productivity.

He said the company had also expanded recently into the household cleaning market, launching a series of new products after opening a factory in Amchit, north Lebanon.

A key component for running successful industrial enterprises in Lebanon, where energy and labor costs are higher than elsewhere in the region, is to endorse the latest technological advancements and put an emphasis on high quality, he added.

In addition to gaining certification from the British Standard Institute, a global provider of quality standards, Chedrawi highlighted that research and development took priority at FAP.

“Whatever is new in the business, we are the first to introduce it to the Lebanese and regional markets.”

A highly sophisticated research and development laboratoryalso plays a vital role in the company, which continuously tests products to the highest standards, Chedrawi said.

“Many years ago, cotton was the main raw material in the industry, but now that’s obsolete,” he added. “Then latex foam was introduced, followed by an array of developments in the foam material.

“Only three years after NASA invented viscoelastic, a fiber which takes the body’s form, FAP introduced it in our bedding products,” Chedrawi said proudly.

In the late 1970s, when the country had just plunged into a bloody civil war, Chedrawi made the decision to come back to Lebanon from Ghana, where he was born and raised.

He said the decision had not been based on any straightforward economic logic. “My father was born in Ghana and I was born there as well. But we wanted to come back and establish something in our home country just when everyone else was escaping. We wanted to help and make a difference in our place of origin,” he added.

In his hometown of Hadeth al-Joubbeh, which he said is some 1,480 meters above sea level, FAP continues to operate a plant that is mainly intended to help create jobs for villagers “so they can remain there.”

But since then, the company has seen significant growth, he added. It now operates factories in Saudi Arabia and Ghana, among other countries. It boasts dozens of showrooms across Africa and the Middle East.

“If we had thought about instability all the time, we would have never grown. Of course you need to plan and accommodate for risks, but you should not look back. You should look forward and concentrate on improving your position in the market.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2012, on page 5.

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